Modi, Trump vow India & US to have world's greatest armies: 10 developments

President Donald Trump, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN Summit at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Monday, November 13, 2017.
India and the US have resolved that "two of the world’s great democracies should also have the world’s greatest militaries" following the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on Monday in Manila, the Phillipines. 

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis appears to have been the first high-ranking American official to express this thought in explicit terms and now, it has been reproduced, verbatim, in a White House press handout following the Modi-Trump meeting. 

On Monday, PM Modi and President Trump held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila, during which they discussed a range of key issues, including defence and security. (Read more here)

The meeting in the Philippines capital came a day after officials of India, the US, Japan and Australia held talks to give shape to the much-talked-about quadrilateral alliance to keep the strategically important Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive.

Here are the top 10 things to look out for in US-India ties:

1) According to the White House handout, President Trump and PM Modi discussed "the comprehensive strategic partnership between the United States and India and their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region". 

This development follows New Delhi's recent indications that it is willing to join a quadrilateral architecture to secure its interests in the Indo-Pacific. The Modi-Trump meeting came after India, the US, Japan and Australia on Sunday held their first official talks in Manila with a focus on keeping the Indo-Pacific region "free and open", seen as a move to counter China's aggressive behaviour in the area. The Sunday meeting reportedly gave shape to their security cooperation under the proposed quadrilateral coalition.

Soon after the meeting, India, Australia and Japan issued separate statements listing the Indo-Pacific as the major area of the deliberations and resolved to expand cooperation to uphold a rules-based order and respect for international law in the strategically important region.

2) Further, the two leaders also "pledged to enhance their cooperation as major defence partners, resolving that two of the world's great democracies should also have the world's greatest militaries". 

The explicit focus on enhancing India's military strength has also been in keeping with recent statements from high-ranking Trump administration officials. During his visit to India last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US would provide India with the best technologies for its military modernisation, which include offers to supply F-16 and F-18 fighter jets. After holding wide-ranging talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Tillerson said the US supports India's emergence as a "leading power" and it will continue to help New Delhi strengthen its military capability. 

Before his visit, in an address at an American think tank, Tillerson had said: "Secretary Mattis has said the world’s two greatest democracies should have the two greatest militaries. I couldn’t agree more." 

3) While the handout did not specifically list any defence deals, and the Trump-Modi meeting did not see any big ticket contracts being signed or discussed, at least according to open source reports, the US is keen on clinching the billions of dollars worth of arms deals that India could strike as it moves to modernise its military forces. 

Writing for the Business Standard, defence expert Ajai Shukla explains that Tillerson's October visit to New Delhi came "at a delicate moment for American defence sales to India". According to Shukla, having rung up $15-18 billion in defence sales to New Delhi in the last decade, Washington is backing the US defence industry's drive for a second wave of contracts that could add up to another $18-25 billion. 

(Read Ajai Shukla's piece on how Tillerson is batting for more Indian defence purchases from the US

A former top Pentagon official, according to Shukla, said, "We understand the F-16 might be at a disadvantage, owing to Indian perception that US has long supplied it to Pakistan. But the F/A-18E/F is a fantastic aircraft and Boeing has the go-ahead from Washington to set up a plant to build the fighter in India."

4) The possibility of India purchasing the F-16 could have figured in the talks between Modi and Trump on Monday. 

In a separate piece for the Business Standard, while citing US defence industry sources, Shukla wrote that Trump planned to urge PM Modi "to move quickly on finalising the selection of a single-engine fighter for the Indian Air Force (IAF)" during their Monday meeting.

(Read Ajai Shukla's piece on how the US is aiming for the IAF single-engine fighter contract

Shukla added that the US had "high stakes" in this purchase of 100-200 single-engine fighters in a deal that could be "worth $15 billion". The frontrunners are Lockheed Martin's F-16 Block 70 and Swedish company Saab's Gripen E.

5) PM Modi on Monday told President Trump that both countries can rise beyond bilateral ties and work jointly for the future of Asia, reflecting their growing convergence on strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

During their wide-ranging talks, Modi assured Trump that India will try to "live up to the expectations" of the US and the world and also thanked the US President for speaking "highly" about India during his trips. 

6) Briefing reporters later, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar described the meeting as a "co-ordial, constructive and very comfortable" conversation on bilateral, regional and global issues. He said the meeting was mainly focused on economic issues, including trade and investment. (Read more here)

The two sides discussed how to grow their economic ties and improve market access to each other. Jaishankar said the two leaders also discussed matters relating to defence cooperation, counter-terrorism, proliferation, the Korean crisis, and the situation in West Asia and the Gulf.

A fair amount of time went into discussions on Afghanistan, Jaishankar said, adding that PM Modi briefed Trump on the recent supply of wheat to the land-locked country through the sea route. They also discussed the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine State where violence against the Rohingyas has forced more than 600,000 people to flee the country to Bangladesh. 

7) As reported earlier, a senior White House official has said that the India-US relationship is going to get stronger and better under the Trump administration in a wide range of areas, including regional security issues, trade and economy, and terrorism.

"India is a natural ally of the United States, because of the shared commitment to democracy and to counter-terrorism, and because the region is so vital to the US security," Raj Shah, the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, told a group of Indian reporters on Monday. Shah's comments came hours after PM Modi and President Trump held their bilateral meeting in Manila.

8) President Trump, according to the White House handout, "expressed appreciation that Indian purchases of oil from the United States have surpassed 10 million barrels in recent months". Further, the US President reportedly "expressed confidence that stronger energy cooperation will be a geopolitical and economic game changer" for both countries. 

As reported by Reuters last month, India is set to emerge as a key market for American crude exports in coming months as the country's refineries are ramping up "test" purchases of US grades to diversify their imports.

In August, Indian Oil Corporation bought 950,000 barrels of light sweet Eagle Ford shale oil and 950,000 barrels of heavy sour Mars crude for end-October delivery from trading firm Trafigura. In October the company bought 1 million barrels each of US Southern Green Canyon (SGC) and WTI Midland crude. In October, India's Reliance Industries Ltd, the world's largest refining complex, purchased 1 million barrels of Midland and a similar-sized cargo of Eagle Ford crude for November delivery.

9) According to the White House handout, PM Modi, for his part, said that he was "looking forward to hosting the United States delegation to the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, showcasing innovation and collaboration between India and the United States".

As reported earlier, President Trump's daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump will be attending the plenary session of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit to be held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre from November 28 to 30. 

10) Trump had on Friday praised India's "astounding" growth after it opened up its economy and also lauded Modi, saying that he has been working successfully to bring the vast country and its people together.

As reported earlier, speaking at a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang last week, Trump cited India as one of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region making strides.

With inputs from Agencies

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